Excerpts from the Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova

October 27, 2016

Developments in Syria

We are still concerned over the developments in Syria, where hotspots of instability persist as a consequence of the criminal activities of ISIS, Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, aka Jabhat al-Nusra, and similar terrorist groups.

We note with regret that the so-called anti-ISIS US-led coalition is increasingly a destabilising factor in Syria and only complicates the already tense military, political and humanitarian situation. This force continues to conduct its operations without the official approval of the Syrian Government, thereby grossly violating both that country’s sovereignty and international law. I am referring to the parties' compliance with international law.

Russia has been criticised for the operations of its Aerospace Forces in Syria, with critics alleging that some “violations of international humanitarian law” have occurred. As before, these allegations are absolutely groundless and unsupported by facts. But Russia’s rebuttals, specifically presentations by the Russian military of photographs and videos and the well-reasoned exposure of lies and mistakes in the relevant statements made by the mercenary media, remain unheeded. In this connection, we once again would like to convey to our opponents the simple idea that the Russian military are in Syria in order to fight international terrorist organisations, not “exterminate” civilians.

We noticed a statement by a spokesperson for Amnesty International’s office in Beirut, who said that the US failed to take into account possible civilian casualties in Syria as it carried out air attacks against ISIS. I quote: “We fear the U.S.-led coalition is significantly underestimating the harm caused to civilians in its operations in Syria. … As many as 300 civilians have been killed in 11 attacks conducted by the U.S.-led coalition since September 2014. Analysis of available evidence suggests that in each of these cases, coalition forces failed to take adequate precautions to minimize harm to civilians and damage to civilian objects.”

In the meantime, Russia, in coordination with the Syrian authorities, continues to take measures with the purpose of overcoming the dramatic humanitarian crisis in Syria. I would like to remind you that a “humanitarian pause” was introduced in Aleppo a few days ago to ease the intensity of confrontation and allow civilians to exit from areas of combat operations. Nevertheless, the terrorists have done all they could to prevent civilians and members of smaller terrorist groups from leaving eastern Aleppo. Moreover, the jihadists operating in the Aleppo area continue to be supplied with weapons and ammunition. It would be nice if The Independent and Al Jazeera at last would write directly, without citing anyone, who is sponsoring the jihadists in eastern Aleppo and replenishing their ammunition stocks, thereby bringing them back to life again.

There are cases on record of US-made antitank missile systems and portable antiaircraft missile systems being handed over to the militants. We are concerned over the lack of effective efforts on the part of the Damascus-based UN Humanitarian Coordinator’s team to organise medical evacuation of wounded and sick individuals. By October 21, only two fighters out of the original 200 people who were in need of urgent medical attention remained on the list. But they turned down the offer of transportation as well. Let me remind you that 10 days ago the international community urged the use of all resources to this end and to discontinue bombing attacks against the terrorists in Aleppo under the pretext that it was necessary to allow the sick and the wounded to leave that territory.

In the meantime, Russian-organised centres offering free food, medicines and living essentials continue their operations in various areas in Syria. We also appreciate other countries’ fair share of contribution. Last week, for example, a Russian military transport aircraft delivered from Serbia to Syria the first batch of humanitarian cargo intended for needy civilians. This included more than 40 tonnes of canned food, flour, vegetable oil, clothes and medicine. Russian military will airlift this aid to the most war-ravaged populated localities.

Presumed US heavy weapons to Syrian opposition

White House press spokesman Josh Earnest said yesterday, in effect, that Russia was complicating Washington’s search for a peaceful settlement in Syria. That was what he really said. You can check. It takes utter incompetence or total ignorance of the facts to say this, and we can set the matter straight.

We noted an item in The Washington Post on October 23, which Mr Earnest overlooked, on the US administration considering the prospects of supplying heavier weapons to the so-called moderate opposition in Syria. The writers alleged that though pressured by the CIA and the Pentagon, President Barack Obama would prefer leaving the matter to his successors to the White House after the November 8 elections. This is unconfirmed information from the media, and we don’t know what decision the White House has really taken and how it has been discussed.

We sincerely hope that the US administration will lean toward a rational approach rather than rash actions that could bring unpredictable military and political consequences. We will closely monitor, as before, Washington’s actions, that tend to put a nation’s fate at stake to satisfy its geopolitical ambitions in a gamble where, as a rule, it is unscrupulous about the tools it uses to remove governments not to its liking.

I dare remind our American partners again that they voted for UN Security Council Resolution 2254, which envisages a political settlement of the Syria conflict, and approved the relevant decisions of the International Syria Support Group, which the US co-chairs with Russia. It is as if Washington recognises only in word that peace talks have no alternative while accusing Russia of meddling with the Obama administration as it chooses peaceful settlement options. Indeed, as we have seen, the alternatives do not rule out one of the most doubtful behind-the-scenes options including direct aid to the militants. You may recall the direct aggression options discussed publicly in 2013. Now, arms supplies are being discussed as we have heard from various sources.

We still remember the results of the United States’ expensive Train and Equip operation, which Josh Earnest does not mention, that attempted to train opposition fighters in 2015. As Pentagon officers acknowledged at Congressional hearings, only four or five out of the first 54 first trainees went to battle. That would be funny if only we didn’t know that the other fifty, well-trained and equipped, and with American weapons, not only deserted but went over to the terrorist side. More than that, as far as we know, many of them joined ISIS and al-Nusra. Again, they use skills they received and practised during training. I don’t think their curricula included terrorism, but simple warfare. However, they use the skills in terrorist organisations. Judging by this experience, it is easy to expect the heavy weapons the CIA might send to the moderates to soon pass into the hands of jihadists.

Regrettably, only few people in Washington – at least, among the decision-makers – have drawn a lesson from the sad experience of military and financial support of the Mujahedeen in Afghanistan, which Al-Qaeda used eventually against the US itself. The public understands and remembers this, and does not want to repeat it, while the lobbyists and decision-makers are ready to run the risk again.

The list of war crimes committed by the US and its allies in Syria

To wrap up the Syrian issue, I would like to mention that we are constantly hearing allegations of Russia failing to deliver on its commitments under the Russia-US agreements and the Syria peace plan, and sometimes these claims are made publicly. We face allegations of failing to carry out our obligations, infringing on them, etc.

In order to put an end to all those allegations, the Russian Federation has decided to circulate in the UN Security Council, in the UN headquarters in New York, as well the UN Office in Geneva, and in other UN bodies and agencies, an official document that sets forth all the relevant facts showing that Russia has fully implemented its obligations under the Russia-US agreements, while the US has not. This document contains facts, dates and figures, and is quite voluminous. It has been already circulated in Geneva by the Permanent Mission of the Russian Federation to the United Nations Geneva Office, and the Russian Permanent Mission to the United Nations in New York will do the same today.

Let me point out that we have time and again raised the issue of using photographs and other visual material as evidence of what is happening in Syria. We see how our US colleagues and US media use these materials. We note that while using materials that were prepared in advance, fabricated and orchestrated, huge volumes of information provided by the Russian Federation are disregarded, despite the fact that they are publicly available, including on the social media that the US and other partners refer to so often.

Today, I would like to draw your attention to a selection of images portraying the initiatives by the US-led coalition that resulted in civilian casualties and the destruction of civilian infrastructure in Syria. These materials also tell the story of the actions and crimes committed by ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra, which also resulted in civilian casualties and the destruction of civilian infrastructure.

I would like to comment these images. On July 29, 2015, the air forces of the US-led coalition carried out a strike against El-Gandura, a village 23 kilometres from the Syrian city of Manbij. It was civilians who suffered from the attack. The strike left 77 people dead and destroyed several buildings.

On February 15, 2016, the US-led coalition carried out an air strike against a Doctors without Borders hospital near Maarrat al-Nu’man, leaving seven people dead and more than 10 people wounded.

On July 19, 2016, 125 civilians were killed and several buildings were destroyed in Tawhar village to the north of Manbij (Aleppo province) in an airstrike by the US-led coalition.

At 5 pm on September 17, 2016, two F-16 bombers, two А-10 fighter jets and a combat UAV of the US-led coalition conducted air strikes against Syrian government troops six kilometres to the south of Deir ez-Zor, killing 62 people, and leaving more than 100 Syrian army personnel wounded. In addition, ISIS fighters occupied Tharda mountains, a strategic point.

Here you can see the Temple of Bel before the explosion and how it looks now.

Let us move on to images showing crimes committed by ISIS and terrorists from other groups. On August 28, 2014, a video was released showing ISIS fighters staging an execution of 250 almost naked men, who were presumably soldiers from the Syrian army. They were surrounded by ISIS flags. The prisoners were taken out in the open and shot in the back one by one. Their bodies were left under the sun to decompose, and the cruel video showing all this was made public.

There is footage in which ISIS fighters shoot children. I would like CNN’s Christiane Amanpour to take note of these images.

On May 24, 2015, more than 400 people, most of them women and children, were killed in the Syrian city of Palmyra by fighters. Islamists accused these people of “entertaining ties with the Syrian government”.

I would like to dedicate the next image to Samantha Power, the Permanent Representative of the United States to the United Nations, who has recently attended commemorations of Babi Yar. Yes, this tragedy did happen. But why do you fail to see what is happening right now? Why does it take the US mission to the UN so many years to start paying attention what is happening in front of its eyes, why can’t they stop contributing to the atrocities we see in these images?

On September 14, 2016, more than twenty Syrian civilians were accused by fighters of working for foreign intelligence agencies and killed. This happened in Deir ez-Zor, a city in northeast Syria.

This is just a few images that were included into a handbook that will also be distributed at the UN Secretariat in Geneva and New York and among the members of the UN Security Council.

Approval of the UN General Assembly resolution, “Necessity of ending the economic, commercial

and financial embargo imposed by the United States of America against Cuba”
We welcome the approval by the UN General Assembly on October 26 of the resolution, “Necessity of ending the economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed by the United States of America against Cuba.” The results of the voting were unprecedented: 191 out of 193 countries supported the resolution, with the US and Israel abstaining rather than voting against it for the first time in 25 years. It’s important to understand the cosmic nature of this vote. To reiterate: the United States abstained as the General Assembly was taking a vote on a resolution regarding the necessity of ending the economic blockade it had imposed on Cuba. It is a very interesting precedent for international lawyers.

We regard these results as an expression of the international community’s joint and unanimous striving for an immediate abolition of this notorious relic of the Cold War and a sign of rejection of the counterproductive, illegal practice of using unilateral sanctions as a means of pressure and of imposing one’s will on others.

I would like to remind you that Russia has consistently abided by its principled policy. We are resolutely in favour of a full-scale abolition of the blockade as an anachronism, contradicting the requirements of modernity. In so doing, we are guided by the fundamental principles of the UN Charter on the inadmissibility of any discriminatory measures or interference in the internal affairs of states.

We hope that the Administration and the US Congress will at last take to heart this clearly expressed joint international appeal and will take measures dictated by the realities for an early lifting of the anti-Cuban embargo, including in following the logic of the process of normalising relations between Havana and Washington.